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Dressing for the Homeward Journey


"Dressing for the Homeward Journey: Western Anishnaabe Leadership Roles Viewed through Two Nineteenth Century Burials."
• with Kevin Brownlee, Archaeology Curator, Manitoba Museum

The Red Deer River and Dauphin Historic Burials in West-Central Manitoba provide exceptional opportunities for ethnohistorical reconstruction due to the number, variety and types of grave goods associated with these individuals. Some of the artifacts can be positively attributed to the goods carried by the North West Company and XY Company during the relatively short period between 1803 and 1813. As well, these grave goods are of kinds that were predominantly utilized by the Ojibway and Odawa peoples who had recently migrated to the region from various locations around the Great Lakes . Moreover, the individuals interred, both of whom were male youths, wore "laced chief's coats" and profuse quantities of silverworks. This circumstance clearly indicates their high status in the "middle ground" characteristic of fur trade social relations. This paper draws upon the approaches of archaeology, ethnohistory and ethnology to reconstruct the total clothing ensembles of the two youths and thereby to infer both biographical traits of the individuals and the wider socio-cultural patterns that surrounded their lives and deaths. We also utilize the particularly novel methodology of employing a First Nations artist, Elaine McIntyre, to create historically reconstructed portraits of the two youths. By providing the artist with access to images and artifacts characteristic of the time and place, as well as the associated grave goods themselves, she was able to accurately depict not only the total clothed appearances of the individuals, but also the roles and statuses symbolized by their attire. The portraits enable us to easily envision how subtle differences in their dress translate into different social roles, and hence individual biographic details, within the overall context of the local fur trade culture.

"Red Deer River Youth, by Elaine McIntosh, October 2004. (Photo by Kevin Brownlee)."

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